(Published in the Seattle Times online on July 9, 2020
and in PacificNW Magazine of the print Times on July 12, 2020)
There’s no covering up the message of this masked boy
By Clay Eals
When we weigh how to respond to big issues, we often ponder the effect on children, who represent the future. That’s what makes this week’s “Then” so potent.
Standing alone, staring at the camera (and seemingly at us) is a nameless preteen, labeled only as a newsboy. Behind him is the box office of the vaudevillian Pantages Theatre, on the east side of Third Avenue near University Street. The stark sign reflects an order on Saturday, Oct. 5, 1918, by Seattle Mayor Ole Hanson to close theaters, churches and schools and cancel public gatherings to slow the flu pandemic.
We don’t know who posed the masked boy or why, and we can’t find evidence that a Seattle newspaper published the photo. But the boy’s example bears a plea: What will we do today for the sake of tomorrow?
Curiously, public policy on masks that autumn was halting. Masks were absent from initially publicized anti-flu tips, which included using handkerchiefs for sneezes and avoiding crowds. Kissing, too, was disfavored. With a straight face, The Seattle Times reported, “This practice should be stopped except in cases where it is absolutely indispensable to happiness.”
But momentum was building for masks. Their first mention in The Times (other than gas masks for overseas combat) came Oct. 10, when the Red Cross was said to be making them by the thousands. An “urgent appeal” bid women to assist in their manufacture. On the lighter side, a fashion article Oct. 18 proclaimed flu masks, especially chiffon veils, “a necessity in milady’s wardrobe.”
Finally came official action. On Oct. 24, the city ordered barbers to mask up. By Oct. 26, the order covered restaurant workers and counter clerks and, by Oct. 27, messengers, bank tellers and elevator operators. On Oct. 28, masks became mandatory on streetcars.
Noncompliance arrests began Oct. 29 (punishment: $5 bail). Stores capitalized on the cause. The Criterion millinery at Second and Seneca advertised, “You are as safe in this store as you are on the street.”
Some officials grumbled. Thomas Murphine, utility superintendent: “I know now how a mule feels when its head is shoved into a nosebag.”
Newspapers beseeched cooperation. “It is easy to be cynical and skeptical,” the Seattle Star said in a front-page banner on Oct. 30, “but knocking and scoffing aren’t going to keep down the toll of deaths.”
One day after the Nov. 11 armistice, in tune with jubilation over the Great War’s end, Seattle’s mask orders and theater closures were rescinded.
In today’s pandemic, who knows when or why masking will cease, but the century-old plea remains: What will we do for the sake of tomorrow?
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column!
We extend special thanks to Tom Blackwell, Ron Edge, Ann Ferguson, Eric Flom, David Jeffers, Lisa Oberg, Karen Spiel and Marian Thrasher as well as Jenn of Seattle Area Archivists and Joe at Seattle Public Library Quick Info for their invaluable help in digging up info to pin down the location of our “Then” photo.
Below are three additional photos along with 90 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) and other online newspaper sources that were helpful in the preparation of this column. As a bonus, at the very bottom is a 2007 “Now & Then” column on masks by Paul Dorpat!
2 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Masked Seattle 1918”
Thanks for seeking me out Clay. This was fun. Here is the piece I wrote on the New Pantages that was posted to Paul and Jean’s Now and Then on August 30, 2009.
The marble and terra cotta edifice at 1304 3rd Avenue was Alexander Pantages’ fourth and final Seattle theater. While Pantages was making his fortune in Dawson and Skagway during the Alaska Gold Rush, John Considine and John Cort were paving the way for variety-vaudeville in Seattle and offered stiff competition for the Greek immigrant. He opened The Crystal at 1206 2nd Avenue, south of Pioneer Square in 1902. Seattle’s first “Pantages” opened at the northeast corner of 2nd and Seneca on October 10, 1904. The Lois, also managed by Pantages and named after his wife, opened across the street on the southeast corner two years later. The Lois closed after a December, 1911 fire and was eventually converted into a tennis club. Old timers may remember it as Germania Hall. When the 3rd and University Pantages opened in 1915, the older house was renamed Lois. The evolution of theater names is often a confusing game of musical chairs. Historian Chris Skullerud lists eight name changes for the 3rd Avenue theater, beginning with New Pantages, followed by Follies (1931), 3rd Avenue (1931), once again Pantages (1932), Rex (1935), Mayfair (1935), New Rex (1936), and finally Palomar (1936).
Architect A.B. Heinsbergen “redecorated” 1304 3rd Avenue in 1923. Skullerud mentions a projection booth was added around this time. It can be difficult for modern moviegoers to comprehend the experience of film’s earliest introductions, screened form noisy projectors out in the open, whose vociferous, mechanical clickity-clack competed with musicians playing live accompaniment from the orchestra pit below. As one of the many acts featured in the program, movies began as a novelty. Vaudeville circuits adopted their own silly sounding brand name for film actualities and serials, such as “Pantagescope”.
Published earlier this year, Eric Flom’s book, “Silent Film Stars on the Stages of Seattle” (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers) offers an incredibly detailed description of this and other Seattle theaters from the era. Appearances at the 3rd and University Pantages mentioned by Flom include Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Ben Turpin.
Looks like the marble in the theater is Alaskan marble, which was the common marble used throughout Seattle. You can still see the marble in many many lobbies across the city. Also, in a few bathrooms.